Anti-drug show rocks Essex pupils

A pop roadshow touring Essex schools has won praise from the Government for demonstrating how to get the anti-drugs message across to schoolchildren.

The 2 Smart 4 Drugs roadshow, run by Essex FM, was inspired by the death of Essex schoolgirl Leah Betts, who died after taking one Ecstasy tablet.

Paul Chantler, the station's programme director, said: "If you can bring all the razzmatazz of live radio with bands, dancers, presenters, DJs, quizzes, prizes and all, it's easier to slip in the serious bit. The worst thing we could do is to stand on stage, wag our fingers and preach 'Now kiddies, say no to drugs'."

For the 500 11 to 14-year-olds at Gable Hall school in Corringham, the roadshow meant a morning off lessons, and the chance to meet BBC Newsround presenter Dr Dave Bull.

Best of all, new heart-throb boy band Orange Orange were to play live in the school hall.

Lead singer Giles said: "We don't want to be thought of as goody goodies. And neither do any of the kids. They'll remember this day for a long time - who wouldn't remember the day a pop band came to school? I've got an 11-year-old sister and performing to pupils her age really brought the dangers of drugs home to me."

Giles is also the first to admit it's "quite helpful publicity" - particularly at a time when the Government has just appointed its first high-profile "drugs tsar".

Newsround's Dr Bull insisted the roadshow is more than fun: "It may not seem like they are taking anything in, but I have no doubt the important points are getting across. I am constantly amazed when kids come up and start discussing in great detail something we did on Newsround six months ago, which I've long forgotten. With this age group awareness sinks in and stays there."

Research by Essex University found that 500 12 and 13-year-olds across the county had used drugs, as had 4,000 14 and 15-year-olds and 120,000 16 to 29-year-olds. The report also found an increasing use of drugs by young girls.

Head of Gable Hall School, John King, believes the figures are no real cause for concern. He said: "There's been such a focus on us since Leah Betts's death, one could be forgiven for thinking Essex is the teen drugs centre of the country. However, I'm not denying it's a national problem and if it helps I'm keen to employ as many strategies in school as possible."

Mr King claims drugs education could be easily fitted into the curriculum: "We'll follow up this day with English lessons looking at drugs literature, biology classes looking at the effects of drugs on the body, drama lessons to explore the peer issues. Some subjects lend themselves to it, all it takes is a little creativity."

But after the excitement had faded and the lengthy queue for autographs died down, it was clear the event had been a hit. "It's been brilliant" was the unanimous verdict of the pupils.

But the real difficulty facing anyone in drugs education was best summed up by 11-year-old James Colverhouse and 12-year-old Elaine Saunders: "It's been nice to get off lessons, and the whole thing was just fantastic. It probably got the message across to a lot of other children, but we knew all about drugs already. They never realise just how much children know, do they?"

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